of the Southern Faith:
When Walked The Reverend...
(originally published in the October
1981 issue of Once Upon A Dime)
all the characters that have graced the shelves
of grocery stores and newsstands the world over,
none captured the feel of the post-bellum South
so much as The Reverend. From the cross that burned
on his chest when evil approached, to the eyes of
the demons that he battled tooth and nail, The Reverend's
seven-year run made him a favorite of children around
the country, but especially those who read beneath
the covers in former Georgia plantation homes.
Reverend, written originally by Hap Hanland, appeared
for the first time on the back page of In Your
Defense, a popular American war comic, during
the early months of WWII. Shown defending the stately
homes of Savannah from Japanese air attack, The
Reverend came to the rescue, and flew off with the
cry "always keep the faith!"
as the main feature in Fighting Tales #17,
The Reverend accompanied a young Atlanta man across
the ocean in his battle against Uncle Fritz, saving
him and several of his platoon mates from heavy
fire at the hands of the Germans, before performing
a mass baptism that made the Gerries lay down their
arms. No issue of any wartime comic had approached
the sales level of Fighting Tales #17, and
it served as the catalyst to turn The Reverend into
the star of American Victory comics.
Victory had been a low-selling title featuring
the adventures of Mr. Excelsior, the Harvard professor
turned crime fighter who would make daily flights
to Europe or Japan to save our boys.
the jump-suited and masked Reverend replaced the
aging academic as the star, sales jumped greatly,
particularly in the South, where The Reverend spent
most of his time routing out draft dodgers and stopping
Germans from infiltrating the social set. The Reverend
rarely handed out true beatings, usually preferring
to give wrongdoers a second chance at redemption.
Reverend, the alter ego of Bible publishing tycoon
James Strong, had powers that allowed him to serve
both his Southern brethren and the effort abroad.
Immune to the bullets fired by the foreign menaces
then at war with the U.S., The Reverend could call
forth his Armor of God to take the heavy fire. His
early adventures frequently took him over-seas,
trips aided by his powers of flight and super-vision.
He could call forth his cross to show the light
of truth to any non-believer.
of his frequently used powers, "Absolution,"
allowed many villains to be forgiven, often breaking
into tears and taking holy orders in the next frame.
His greatest power, Hanland claimed, was his compassionate
wisdom that allowed him to bring people together.
"I wrote the Reverend to be the greatest hero
ever, not only in strength, but in judgment."
The now 87-year old Hanland said in a rare convention
appearance this year. "He would defend the
South with great pride, encourage sweet Southern
children to say their prayers and train hard to
defeat the transoceanic threats to our country and
his cherished way of life. He was, like all preachers,
a defender of children and spirit."
wrote just nine issues of American Victory
before an actual American victory was secured. Hanland,
along with Dirk Morris and Stuart Jeallia, launched
a new imprint, JHM. The first JHM series to hit
the shelves was Tales of the South, the first
book where The Reverend starred as the featured
character away from the war. There he specialized
in saving Georgia and Alabama from villainous attacks,
which always allowed him to spread a special message
on the final page.
Tales of the South, Hanland created a rotating
series of characters to join The Reverend; including
Colonel Sharp, Master of the Buckknife, Southern
Belle, a gracious and powerful young thing who fought
crime using her superior manners, and Dr. Hound,
a kennel operator who could call forth any hound
to do battle with him. These characters were opposed
by villains who seemed more than a little inspired
by those in other, more successful books: the Walking
Explosion, Alligatorman, the Miniature Menace, and
were characters I came up with independently,"
Hanland protested "They shared characteristics
of other heroes, but no more than Superman shared
characteristics with Captain Marvel. They were independent
creations, and the fact that they took them away
from me was a crime!"
writs arrived at JHM from the larger companies,
Hanland's partners forced him to scrap most of his
villains, instead bringing in new terror groups,
such as the Carnies, a group of hucksters and confidence
men that first appeared in late 1947.
this time, the cast of characters that Tales
of the South featured had grown a bit stale,
and the storytelling that had once propelled the
book into the hands of many young boys had fallen
flat. Hanland spun off Dr. Hound to his own book,
and sold the rights to Colonel Sharp to Jay Mutille,
his longtime friend and inker. Tales of the South
was renamed The Reverend, but protests from
various groups encouraged them to re-title the book
The Southern Defender, a name which held
for the rest of the run of the series.
Reverend hit its stride with the name change,"
noted comic historian James "Wildcat"
Reese said, "Once Hanland had eliminated the
borrowed villains, and phased out Colonel Sharp
and Dr. Hound, the title took off, sales increased,
and the stories gained a sense of continuity they
had lacked in the first few years. Many point to
issue 29 of The Southern Defender as the
turning, and certainly as one of the best issues
from the era of any title."
issue #29, The Reverend had a major makeover, one
that had been forced on Hanland by his JHM partners.
years of fighting standard villains, The Reverend
started battling demons, devils, and all manner
of Satan's ghouls. In these stories, he was no longer
a mere religiously themed, Southern superhero, but
the only defense between a cherished way of life
and pure evil. These books became darker, with Hanland
working in more "proud Southern heritage"
as a backdrop for the supernatural events. Even
though many believed that Hanland opposed the changes,
he attained a new level of creativity.
can remember an issue where a man named Justice
helped The Reverend find a group of wandering Northern
vampires called the Carpetbaggers," long time
comics commentator James "Wizard" Reel
brought him to the den of the scallywags, who were
easily defeated by the strength of The Reverend's
faith. At the end of the issue, we are shown that
Justice was actually one of the victims of the Carpetbaggers,
and by defeating them, The Reverend had set his
spirit free. So surprising a twist in comics, film
or television would never be duplicated."
1951, Hanland stood as a true visionary, always
coming up with new turns to keep his stories fresh.
Once, The Reverend was called to stop a duel between
two noble young men. He made it in time, but was
quickly confused with how to handle the situation
once he realized that each man was fighting for
a different church. As the two men turned, The Reverend
stepped into the path of both bullets, allowing
them to harmless bounce off his Armor of God, then
brought the congregations together to celebrate
Easter at the Mansion built over his secret base
suffered a massive heart attack and turned the reigns
of the series over to his 18-year old son, Michael
Hanland. Almost instantly the younger Hanland ran
into trouble with the Comics Code Authority due
to gory fights between The Reverend and zombies,
Michael's favorite monsters.
learning of the troubles, father Hanland returned
instantly, drawing his comics from his South Philadelphia
hospital bed. These issues, numbered 47-51, featured
The Reverend setting things right with ill people
in the moments before they would be attacked by
the forces of evil. His roommates during his stay
provided much of the inspiration for these stories,
and the ghost of a supposed Civil War General who
had spent his final days in the halls of the hospital
made an appearance as a helpful spirit, giving The
Reverend hope when all else failed. Hanland soon
spun off the General character into his own book,
General Ghost, in which the great soldier
led modern armies out on the field.
the rise of Communism, Hanland returned to his former
methods during the war, bringing in a group of communist
demons called The Workers. The Workers would sweep
into a house and take all the sacred heirlooms,
leaving the house gray and lifeless. In one issue,
they went so far as to swarm the occupants, and
change them from their perfectly manicured attire
to the drab clothing the beasts favored. After several
issues of battling the crew, The Reverend finally
trapped the Workers in a small cubicle and sent
them back to Ivan in Moscow.
to The Reverend of the war period was a refreshing
change, but as the years wore on, the character
had to change." Reese noted. "I've read
all but the rare 57th issue, and the Worker issues
became more and more stale with every appearance.
I think the best thing Hanland ever did was to hand
the series over to Jacob Neenan. Even though it
eventually killed the series, it did stretch it
out a year longer than it might have lasted otherwise."
took up the pen from issue 72 and continued until
the series final issue. Jacob introduced The Kentuckian,
a brash man of great mustache and strong musketry
skills. The Kentuckian made a habit of disrupting
galas, riding his fiery horses into stately homes
and spitting tobacco juice onto the satin couches
of the genteel members of society.
first appearance, riding in on a snorting ghost
horse during the Savannah Magnolia Festival, shooting
the flowers from horseback and cursing up a storm,
marked the first time The Reverend was affected
by his major weakness, a weakness that led many
to eventually abandon the book. Neenan had determined
that The Reverend could not touch those who had
not been christened, something that Hanland had
warned him not to do.
kid wouldn't listen." Hanland said of his former
protégé, "He had to do things
his way, and he killed us."
Kentuckian made several appearances, and though
The Reverend could never lay a finger on him, he
always found a way to collapse a water tower or
throw a rope around him. At first, Neenan's issues
sold well, particularly with the youth of larger,
Northern cities, an audience that the Reverend had
never managed to reach. The Reverend made trips
to Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles in his final
years as an attempt to increase readership.
sales began to slip, Neenan became desperate, added
a crime-fighting group of gorillas called the Apes
of Wrath, and eventually resorted to writing "dream"
and time-travel issues, in which the established
continuity dropped in favor of a sensational cover.
The final issues of The Southern Defender
went back in time to deal with the Korean War, and
The Reverend going with a group of Georgia volunteers
to the front. These issues were less successful
than those dealing with other conflicts, mostly
due to the constant name calling Neenan inflicted
on the Korean characters.
thought that monkeys and war would save him, but
the Reverend had run his course." Reel noted.
the end, Hanland had nothing to do with his beloved
character, which had taken a predictable bend under
the guidance of Neenan. Hanland had retained the
rights to his characters and released his own title,
The Holy Father, in 1965. The title failed
to attract the audience that had once followed The
Reverend, and it only lasted five issues.
Reverend wandered into obscurity, as did its creator.
Jacob Neenan took to writing short stories for use
in girly magazines, before returning in the 1970s
with The Antennae, a comic that launched
his filmmaking career with the 1973 release of The
1975, Neenan attempted to make a film of The Reverend,
but Hanland stopped his bid as soon as he heard
retired after letting The Reverend go, started buying
land outside of Chicago and selling planned communities.
Today he lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with his fourth
wife, Alfa. He still reads comics, and holds the
record for most letters of complaint to the various
fan magazines, including 17 published in this one
Christopher J. Garcia